The chairman of Hanson’s Board of Health is the focus of a recall bid, the latest episode in an ongoing series of controversies surrounding the panel.
The Board of Selectmen scheduled the May recall election after residents successfully petitioned for the vote and Health Board chairman Tom Constantine opted not to resign within a five-day window provided under law. The petition had 935 signatures, above the 694, or 10 percent of registered voters, needed.
The recall election will be held on the same day as the May 18 annual town election. Voters will face two question: whether to recall Constantine and who should complete the remaining year on his term if the recall succeeds. Constantine plans to be a candidate under that second question, and others can submit nomination papers through April 1.
The recall effort caps a stormy period for the three-member board that Constantine, first elected in 2011, has led since last spring.
Since last summer, the board has taken heat for proposed farm animal regulations and its closure of athletic fields to avoid mosquito-borne illnesses. Meanwhile, the abrupt resignation of the town’s health agent and a tumultuous incident in which a resident allegedly overturned the board’s table at the end of a meeting also made headlines.
An affidavit filed with the petition by resident James C. Sweeney contended that Constantine has shown that he is “unable and incapable of managing and handling the duties of the Board of Health.” It cited several reasons, including Constantine’s “inability to act and conduct the affairs of the Board of Health in a credible manner” and that he has “repeatedly chosen to ignore the advice of” town counsel and the selectmen.
Constantine, 68, dismissed the assertions and contended that some of the fire directed at him may be the result of changes he brought to the Health Department.
“The Board of Health was absolutely dysfunctional, and it needed a major shake-up,” said Constantine, a US Marine Corps veteran, a retired state trooper, and a registered nurse. “In a short period of time, I put many irons in the fire, and people took offense to that.”
Richard Edgehille, a board member who strongly opposes the recall, said some of the criticism is the result of his colleague’s blunt approach, which he said should not be mistaken for a lack of compassion.
“People say they don’t like his tone of voice; that’s his personality,” Edgehille said of Constantine.
But Stephen Amico, chairman of the selectmen, supports the recall, citing Constantine’s “bull-in-a-china-shop style.”
“I like Tom,” Amico said. “Tom’s a good guy. I think he’s got a good heart. I just think he goes about things in the wrong way.”
As an example, he said that Constantine has failed to even try to listen to the Agriculture Committee that the town created last year.
Constantine said his board drew fire from owners of farm animals and later the committee when it moved to adopt animal regulations needed to protect neighborhoods.
“There are people that want to have cows in densely populated residential areas,” he said. “You can’t do that; it’s not fair to your neighbors.”
Edgehille said the Board of Health has asked the Agriculture Committee to offer suggested regulations.
Amico also asserted that after selectmen voted to restrict use of athletic fields last summer, Constantine unilaterally set an earlier closing time. Constantine said his board took that action after learning from the state entomologist that mosquitoes begin feeding two hours before dark.
“I’m going to err on the side of the safety of the public,” he said, arguing that in public health emergencies, the Board of Health is the “controlling authority.”
Another issue was a complaint against Constantine that Matthew W. Tanis, then the health agent, filed Sept. 26 with Town Administrator Rene Read, in which he said that Constantine had created a “hostile work environment” for him.
Amico said that Constantine declined to meet with Read as part of his investigation into the complaint because he believed Read had “overstepped his boundary and should have nothing to do with the Board of Health.”
“Mr. Read is not only the procurement officer, he is also the personnel director,” Amico said. “Mr. Read has the right to investigate these things; that’s his job.”
Constantine said he rejects the accusations in the complaint, but felt no obligation to meet with Read, because “I’m an elected official, from an autonomous board.”
At a Nov. 9 meeting, Amico said, the Board of Health voted to consult an attorney about taking possible legal action against the town administrator to prevent his interfering with its business. He said Constantine declined to recognize a number of people, including himself, Read, and Tanis, who raised a hand to speak.
Amico said Tanis wanted to respond to comments Constantine made regarding his whereabouts in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and that directly after the meeting Tanis turned in a letter of resignation.
Constantine said the board met solely to inform the public that it planned to meet the following day with attorneys from the Massachusetts Association of Boards of Health to discuss possible legal action and made clear it was not taking questions. He said Tanis had resigned prior to the meeting.
The result of the board’s meeting with association attorneys was a letter from those lawyers reminding selectmen of the board’s autonomy, according to Constantine.
It was at the Nov. 9 meeting that Steven Cappellini of Hanson allegedly turned over the table. Cappellini later entered a pleas of not guilty in Plymouth District Court to charges stemming from the incident, said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for the Plymouth district attorney’s office. The case is scheduled for a pretrial conference on March 26.
Terence McSweeney, the third Board of Health member, said, “There are some significant issues that need to be resolved with respect to how the Board of Health functions, and if people decide a recall is a way to resolve those issues, so be it.”
Selectman Richard Flynn opposes the recall, citing contributions Constantine has made to the community, such as spearheading dedication of three town squares to Hanson residents killed in Vietnam.
“Though some may not agree with maybe his tactics at times, he truly has given a lot of himself to the town,” Flynn said.